Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

their enforcement, and other military matters. It assumed authority over the negotiations and proceedings of the Conference, though it was never authorized so to do by the body of delegates. The Council of Four, when later formed, was equally without a mandate from the Conference. They assumed the authority and exercised it as a matter of right.

From the time of his arrival in Paris President Wilson held almost daily conversations with the leading foreign statesmen. It would be of little value to speculate on what took place at these interviews, since the President seldom told the American Commission of the meetings or disclosed to them, unless possibly to Colonel House, the subjects which were discussed. My conviction is, from the little information which the President volunteered, that these consultations were — certainly at first — devoted to inducing the European leaders to give their support to his plan for a League of Nations, and that, as other matters relating to the terms of peace were in a measure involved because of their possible relation to the functions of the League, they too became more and more subjects of discussion.

The introduction of this personal and clandestine method of negotiation was probably due to the President's belief that he could in this way exercise more effectively his personal influence in favor of the acceptance of a League. It is not unlikely that this belief was in a measure justified. In Colonel House he found one to aid him in this course of

a

procedure, as the Colonel's intimate association with the principal statesmen of the Allied Powers during previous visits to Europe as the President's personal envoy was an asset which he could utilize as an intermediary between the President and those with whom he wished to ccnfer. Mr. Wilson relied upon Colonel House for his knowledge of the views and temperaments of the men with whom he had to deal. It was not strange that he should adopt a method which the Colonel had found successful in the past and that he should seek the latter's aid and advice in connection with the secret conferences which usually took place at the residence of the President.

Mr. Wilson pursued this method of handling the subjects of negotiation the more readily because he was by nature and by inclination secretive. He had always shown a preference for a private interview with an individual. In his conduct of the executive affairs of the Government at Washington he avoided as far as possible general conferences. He talked a good deal about “taking common counsel,” but showed no disposition to put it into practice. He followed the same course in the matter of foreign affairs. At Paris this characteristic, which had often been the subject of remark in Washington, was more pronounced, or at least more noticeable. He was not disposed to discuss matters with the American Commission as a whole or even to announce to them his decisions unless something arose which compelled him to do so. He easily fell into the practice of seeing men separately and of keeping secret the knowledge acquired as well as the effect of this knowledge on his views and purposes. To him this was the normal and most satisfactory method of doing business.

From the time that the President arrived in Paris up to the time that the Commission on the League of Nations made its report — that is, from December 14, 1918, to February 14, 1919— the negotiations regarding the League were conducted with great secrecy. Colonel House, the President's collaborator in drafting the Covenant, if he was not, as many believed, the real author, was

, the only American with whom Mr. Wilson freely conferred and to whom he confided the progress that he was making in his interviews with the foreign statesmen, at many of which interviews the Colonel was present. It is true that the President held an occasional conference with all the American Commissioners, but these conferences were casual and perfunctory in nature and were very evidently not for the purpose of obtaining the opinions and counsel of the Commissioners. There was none of the frankness that should have existed between the Chief Executive and his chosen agents and advisers. The impression made was that he summoned the conferences to satisfy the amour propre

of the Commissioners rather than out of any personal wish to do so.

The consequence was that the American Commissioners,

other than Colonel House, were kept in almost complete ignorance of the preliminary negotiations and were left to gather such information as they were able from the

delegates of other Powers, who, naturally assuming that the Americans possessed the full confidence of the President, spoke with much freedom. As Mr. Wilson never held a conference with the American Commission from the first meeting of the Commission on the League of Nations until its report was printed, his American colleagues did not know, except indirectly, of the questions at issue or of the progress that was being made. The fact is that, as the Commission on the League met in Colonel House's office at the Hôtel Crillon, his office force knew far more about the proceedings than did the three American Commissioners who were not present. As the House organization made no effort to hide the fact that they had inside information, the representatives of the press as a consequence frequented the office of the Colonel in search of the latest news concerning the Commission on the League of Nations.

But, in addition to the embarrassment caused the American Commissioners and the unenviable position in which they were placed by the secrecy with which the President surrounded his intercourse with the foreign statesmen and the proceedings of the Commission on the League of Nations, his secret negotiations caused the majority of the delegates to the Conference and the public at large to lose in a large measure their confidence in the actuality of his devotion to “open diplomacy,” which he had so unconditionally proclaimed in the first of his Fourteen Points. If the policy of secrecy had ceased with the discussions preliminary to the organization of the Conference, or even with those preceding the meetings of the Commission on the League of Nations, criticism and complaint would doubtless have ceased, but as the negotiations progressed the secrecy of the conferences of the leaders increased rather than decreased, culminating at last in the organization of the Council of Four, the most powerful and most seclusive of the councils which directed the proceedings at Paris. Behind closed doors these four individuals, who controlled the policies of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy, passed final judgment on the mass of articles which entered into the Treaties of Peace, but kept their decisions secret except from the committee which was drafting the articles.

The organization of the Council of Four and the mystery which enveloped its deliberations emphasized as nothing else could have done the secretiveness with which adjustments were being made and compromises were being effected. It directed attention also to the fact that the Four Great Powers had taken supreme control of settling the terms of peace, that they were primates among the assembled nations and that they intended to have their authority acknowledged. This extraordinary secrecy and arrogation of power by the Council of Four excited astonishment and complaint throughout the body of delegates to the Conference, and caused widespread criticism in the press and among the people of many countries.

A week after the Council of Ten was divided into the Council of the Heads of States, the official title of the

« PreviousContinue »